Wednesday, September 19, 2012


To a Goose

Robert Southey (1774-1843), To a Goose:
If thou didst feed on western plains of yore;
Or waddle wide with flat and flabby feet
Over some Cambrian mountain's plashy moor;
Or find in farmer's yard a safe retreat
From gipsy thieves, and foxes sly and fleet;    5
If thy grey quills, by lawyer guided, trace
Deeds big with ruin to some wretched race,
Or love-sick poet's sonnet, sad and sweet,
Wailing the rigour of his lady fair;
Or if, the drudge of housemaid's daily toil,    10
Cobwebs and dust thy pinions white besoil,
Departed Goose! I neither know nor care.
But this I know, that thou wert very fine,
Season'd with sage and onions, and port wine.
Line 13 appeared thus in The Morning Post (1799) and The Minor Poems (1815). It was changed to "But this I know, that we pronounced thee fine" in Southey's collected works (1837-1838). Ian Jackson comments (in an email):
I suppose Southey felt on later reflection that "very fine" was rather lame and conventional praise, the "very" being included purely for metrical purposes. But while the revision may be an improvement in sense, I cannot think that it is superior either in metre (there are gawky emphases) or in pronunciation ("pronounced thee" is an awkward mouthful).

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